Astronomers may have discovered first moon outside our solar system

07 October, 2018, 17:40 | Author: Emmett Howard
  • Scientists Think They've Found the First Moon Outside Our Solar System

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Kepler Space Telescope have assembled compelling evidence for the existence of a large exomoon orbiting Kepler 1625b, a gas giant located approximately 8,000 light-years away from Earth. They say the first exomoon is rather unusual because of its larger size, which is comparable to the diameter of our solar system's Neptune. Kepler is best equipped to find planets that orbit close to their stars, and analyses of orbital dynamics - not to mention the evidence in our own solar system - suggest that moons will be more common further out.

The two researchers, from New York's Columbia University, examined data on 284 planets outside our Solar System and only one of them, Kepler-1625b, showed evidence it may host a moon. The gas giant it presumably orbits has several times the mass of Jupiter.

Such gargantuan moons do not exist in our own solar system, where almost 200 natural satellites have been catalogued, said researchers from the Columbia University in the US.

Alex Teachey, the graduate student who led the discovery, added: "It is an exciting reminder of how little we really know about distant planetary systems and the great spirit of discovery exoplanetary science embodies".

According to the recent study, the object orbiting Kepler-1625b might indeed be an exomoon as the giant planet passed before its host star one hour before the astronomers predicted. The mass ratio between the exomoon and Kepler-1625b is similar to the ratio between the moon and Earth. The first dip in brightness would be the planet crossing in front of its star while the second dip could possibly substantiate their extraordinary claim of exomoon outside our solar system.

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There are other possible explanations, but "a companion moon is the simplest and most natural explanation for the second dip in the light curve and the orbit-timing deviation", Kipping said in a statement. The scientists needed more time and data to confirm the discovery though, and they got it through the Hubble telescope. Planets in wide orbits take longer to transit their stars and are likely to have big moons, which should make them easier to find than small ones. But the team did find a second, much smaller decrease in the star's brightness, consistent with "a moon trailing the planet like a dog following its owner on a leash", Kipping explained. The observation period, however, ended before the moon could complete its transit. It could be rogue planet caught in the gravity of the Kepler 1625b or, like the moons of Jupiter, it coalesced out of gas, dust and other space debris. "But we knew our job was to keep a level head and essentially assume it was bogus, testing every conceivable way in which the data could be tricking us".

Now the researchers say that what Hubble saw seems to confirm the idea that this planet has a moon. There's no analog for such a large moon in our own system.

This was first observed through the Kepler telescope and then confirmed by the Hubble telescope on October 28th and 29, 2017.

This artist's impression depicts the exomoon candidate Kepler-1625b-i, the planet it is orbiting and the star in the centre of the star system. Out of the eight planets, only Mercury and Venus have none. The moon that revolves around it, comparable in size to Neptune.

The researchers believe the star system to be 10 billion years old, which means it's had time to evolve.

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